There is no shortage of self-help books. The quest for self-improvement leads lots of us to books which promise solutions to our problems, and remedies to our pain. I read a lot of books to learn new things — about 90% of the books on my reading list are non-fiction.

The right books can have a huge impact on your life.

Think about all the times you’ve lost yourself in a great story or implemented an idea an author suggested. Think about the impact that insightful books have had on your life, the lives of people close to you and the world.

Despite the many criticisms of some self-help books, millions of people are better off because they found themselves in the pages of a great book they never knew they needed.

Self-help books can change your perspective, but it’s your responsibility to use what you learn to make the change you expect. The most successful readers put what they learn into action.

People fail in applying the advice, ideas, suggestions, and solutions in books they choose to read partly because they don’t have a system to guide them.

How do you get the most value from books?

Be completely honest with yourself

This is one of the best ways to start any process of personal growth. What do you want to improve? What can you really change?

Self-improvement is a highly personal process.

On your journey to a better you, recognize that self-improvement begins with self-awareness. Self-helps books won’t help you if you fail to identify your old beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions that can stand in your way of change.

Knowing yourself, your habits, your motives, your values, and vulnerabilities make it easier to design the best approach for changing your habits or developing new skills.

Once you know yourself enough, define goals for your overall self-improvement. What exactly do you want to improve and why?

Whether you want to improve your productivity, mental focus or relationships with other people, think continuous improvement — habits you can sustain instead of deadlines. Significant, lasting change takes months, often years. It is the result of multiple small improvements.

Focus on lifestyle choices instead of immediate life-changing transformations. Unrealistic expectations are among the top killers of any self-improvement plan. Even if you choose the best self-help book, and you don’t have a plan to start, build, and sustain what you want,

Preview the book you want to read

Not every book is worth your precious time. I am selective about the books I choose to read. Some books can be read just once, providing instant gratification, and then you feel you can pass them on to somebody else.

Others will require more from you to get the value you seek. Preview any book by reading its introduction, table of contents, and skimming through the chapters. Previewing helps you understand the big picture of the book so that whatever you read later can be

Decide your purpose

Find a reason to read. It could be self-improvement, better utilization of time, learning things, improving your career etc. Your purpose states the kind of actionable ideas you expect from the book.

And most importantly choose books you will enjoy. Reading a book is no different from enjoying your favourite TV show or a movie. If you don’t like a show, you won’t waste your time starting it in the first place. If you want to give it a chance, you will try watching the first episode.

If you don’t really like a book, you will abandon after a few chapters. Reading a book should be an experience that provides you with joy and value, not something to labour through.

It’s important you select your book carefully.

Read and highlight

When you intend to burn through a book in a few days or weeks, you’ll naturally forget things. Have a way to take notes or highlight the best ideas. Highlighting passages or taking notes can help you stay active.

Scribble in the margins as you go, bookmark your favourite passages, underline critical insights and use your e-reader highlighter extensively. And when you’ve done these things, return to your notes periodically to review and refresh.

“After I finish a book, I let it age for a week or two and then pick it up again. I look at my notes and the sections I’ve marked as important. I write them down. Or let it age for another week or two,” says Shane Parrish of Farnam Street.

After each book, write a short summary for yourself

Can you recall the main points from the book you read last month? How many books have faded in your memory once you put them down?

After reading the whole book, I’d suggest creating a book summary of your own — personal notes of your opinions, interpretations, ideas, and critiques.

It’s the best way to retain the main ideas you find, and a simple way to understand what you read better. You can write a summary after reading a chapter, paragraph, or a section.

To make the summary easier for yourself, make a bullet list of the main takeaways from each chapter (or topic) along with the best supporting arguments. Organize your mini-summaries for each chapter and use them to complete your final summary.

Take action

This is one of the most important things you have to do after reading any self-help book. Great self-help books are excellent sources of actional knowledge, which makes them powerful tools of self-empowerment.

But books alone cannot change your life. Knowledge alone is completely useless. You have to act on what you find.

Most people fail to benefit from self-help books because they don’t act on the ideas they find. It’s the hardest thing to do for many readers. Old patterns, no matter how destructive, are easier to maintain than creating new behaviours, which requires far more effort and vulnerability.

Don’t be like most people — make the conscious decision to take action and use what you learn to improve your life. The more you learn, implement, and create, the better your world becomes. Don’t forget to be flexible — you don’t have to apply all the ideas from every book you read.

This article was originally published on Medium.

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